Nworie Emmanuel, 27, who graduated with a first-class degree in Mathematics, having scored a CGPA of 4.96 in the 2017/2018 academic session at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, shares his story with ALEXANDER OKERE
Can you briefly introduce yourself?
My name is Emmanuel Nworie from the Iza-South Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. I am 27 years old. I teach, currently, in a school where I served. I served in Enugu State last year. I teach advanced mathematics.
A Facebook post about you working on a farm, despite making first-class in Mathematics, went viral recently. What can you tell us about it?
I am not really a farmer. I actually helped my mum during the (COVID-19 pandemic) lockdown, having completed my National Youth Service Programme in March, 2020. After my NYSC programme, I went back to the school where I served and after two weeks of resumption, the coronavirus pandemic started so everyone was asked to go back to their various homes. I expected that I would be back in April, thinking that the pandemic wouldn’t linger this long. While in my state, the inter-state lockdown was imposed. And even when the school resumed for online classes, it was very difficult for me to go back to the school due to the lockdown, and the school is in Enugu. That affected me. So, I decided to help my mum, since it was a farming season and that (farming) is what she does basically.
How did you feel when your story went viral?
I had mixed feelings. I was happy because people would read my story and get motivated. But then I wasn’t happy because I didn’t know my story would go that far; I’m a kind of person that hates to show off. I would have kept it to myself.
Have organisations and prominent persons reached out to you?
Yes. Some people reached out to encourage me. Some agencies have also come with some offers.
Is it true you made first class in Mathematics at the University of Nigeria?
Yes. I was actually the best (graduating student) both in the faculty and department for the 2017/2018 academic session.
UNN is known for absorbing its first-class graduates into its workforce after completing their national service. Why is that not the case for you?
An unconfirmed report I got after graduation actually said that that idea was stopped by the past university administration. So, from 2016, they stopped retaining first-class graduates. Those who made first class before my set were not retained. But when I graduated, I tried giving it a shot two weeks before the COVID-19 lockdown. But I was informed that due to the large number of people the university was waiting to put on the payroll, it might not be employing anyone soon. So, I was asked to withdraw my application and wait. The COVID-19 pandemic also affected a lot of things.
Did you try other institutions?
Yes, there was a window at Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Effurun, Delta State. I applied but up till now, I have not got a response.
You obviously don’t earn enough to take care of your needs. How have you been coping?
Honestly, it is difficult. Agriculture didn’t pay that much but we were managing, hoping that the COVID-19 restrictions would be relaxed.
Do you have siblings?
I do. I am the second child but not the first son.
Let us go back to your time at university. Was making first class your initial target?
My target was to make 5.0 (a perfect score). Before going to UNN, I actually attended a polytechnic, Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Unwana. There, I expected that life would be easier there but I couldn’t achieve the target I set for myself there. After my National Diploma programme, I had just As and Bs; there was no C. So, I thought I would do better. I got into UNN through the direct entry programme.
How did you cope with the heavy academic workload as a DE student at UNN?
It wasn’t easy and it actually affected my grade. The D I had in my first year at the university was actually what changed the idea of getting a perfect grade. It was because I had a clash of time between two courses – General Studies 101 (Use of English) and one of my departmental courses.
What were the things you had to deny yourself to enable you to manage your time at school?
Sometimes, I slept in a classroom for two to three days consecutively in a week. I turned a classroom to my bedroom. I could leave my hostel on a Monday and return on a Wednesday morning. Over 80 per cent of my time at school was spent studying at night in a classroom.
What were the prizes you received for academic excellence?
There were three of them. I received prizes for the best in the department, faculty and one other award from a donor agency.
How did you study?
What really helped was that I was well-informed before going to the university. How? Having taught mathematics for four years before attending a polytechnic gave me an edge.
How did you manage your financial needs as a student?
I saved some money where I had my one-year internship after my ND programme. But any time there was a break at UNN, I taught for one month or two to raise some money and return to school.
You said your mum is a farmer. How did she manage to provide your school fees and other necessities?
My dad died in 2009. So, my mother was left to take care of everything. It wasn’t easy for her. She went into borrowing. I cultivate cassava and turn it into garri. In the post on Facebook, I was seen on a farm; it was actually a place where I was harvesting cassava. I also fry garri. But I have a younger sister that takes the garri to a market to sell.
How did your mum react when you graduated with a first class?
She wasn’t really surprised. When I completed my secondary education, there were calls for me to study Industrial Chemistry. But she called me and told me that she knew I was good at Mathematics and that if I wanted to pursue my dream in Mathematics, I should go ahead with it. So, she wasn’t expecting anything less than a good result. My result gave her a feeling of thanksgiving.
What were your ‘O’ level results like?
I sat for the Senior Secondary School Examination in 2008 under the West African Examination Council and National Examination Council. But due the challenges I had during my Chemistry practical, I didn’t pass my WAEC Chemistry examination. So, I had to use my NECO results.
What was your most painful experience at school?
Having a D in my first semester was my most painful experience at the university, after setting a target of an A in all my results.
What was your aspiration as a child?
As children, there are things we just hear and want to give a try. When I was a child, I had the dream of becoming a lawyer. But at secondary school, in SS1, the joy from Mathematics was enormous; that motivated me. Choosing Mathematics at the tertiary level was intentional. The polytechnic offered Statistics rather than pure Mathematics. I thought of where I could study pure Mathematics and decided to go to the university.
At what point did you notice that you would make a first class?
Before I went to the university, I had that feeling that I would come out with a first class because, as a teacher, my students were looking up to me and wanted to be motivated by my result. So, if I had disappointed them, maybe some of them would have thought that Mathematics is really very difficult.
What is your aspiration now?
Honestly, I want to go further in Mathematics, not research but applied Mathematics in areas like data analysis.
Are there challenges in Nigeria you think can be solved with applied Mathematics?
Yes. If you look at the situation of things, we suffer daily from hackers, applying Mathematics to cryptography or something like that may help to bring our encrypted codes that we can use to protect us from hackers.
Why do you think many people dislike Mathematics or find it difficult to learn?
There is that general notion that Mathematics is difficult. One thing in life is that when you make up your mind that there is no way you can understand a particular thing and you don’t make efforts, you won’t get it. The challenge can as well come from the teachers and the way they teach the course. Mathematics is a subject that requires instructional materials, including visuals, to teach. By the time you use such things, the interest of the learners are captivated. Some children tend to understand more with such things. Teaching aides will remedy the situation.